A week has passed since your departure – your new surroundings are surreal and make you feel strange and not just a little displaced. The still-tardy bags have left your coordinator with the notion of putting you in a host family and getting your work started right away, so you agree, hoping to escape Accra eventually, this sprawling hot mass of unfinished buildings, garbage orphaned by municipal neglect (not a trash bin to be seen, and you would pinch yourself if you saw recycling), too many cars and people to provide any sense of community. Cross faces glance balefully at you, and you feel foolish with your easy life, your immediate assumption that people’s days are as rewarding as yours as to readily offer a smile at yours.
Back to the story, you meet your family outside the school that you’ll be working at – Bekdan Academy, you read on its colourful facade, decorated with playful murals and victorian nursery rhymes (who remembers Georgie Porgie?!). You are told that you will be living with the headmistress and her family, taken to school in this, and he gesticulates behind you, where you find an enormous luxury Land Cruiser, the husband next to it with a younger woman holding two kids, who you presume to be a babysitter or perhaps a relative. Smiles and greetings later you’re in the front seat, awash with the novelty of traversing the potholed dirt road in something other than a trotro, and with air conditioning full blast besides! You realize that your homestay will be far from a ‘typical Ghana lifestyle’ when you pass polo grounds, the President and nearly the whole of his cabinet’s mansions in the neighbourhood, and when the man and the woman turn out to be respectively Robert, the driver, and Akos, one of the ‘help’. The house is large and enclosed by a walled compound, though unluxurious to your utmost relief; you suspect they are wealthier than your family, even with the currency exchange. You’re reminded of the strange feeling you got in the Osu suburb of Accra, THE haven for expats and tourists alike. Lunch was taken (salad, at last!) at Frankie’s, which made you cringe with Western self-consciousness to enter it and hear in front of you ‘Finally, real food!’ from behind an enormous pile of french fries. There you learned many useful things from Trish, a wonderful jewellery maker from Victoria, BC living contentedly in Ghana for the past 10 years where her business supports her and Western comforts are never far – everything is available in Accra, it’s just a question of knowing where to hunt. An example of her lessons were a promise made never to call anyone ‘foolish’ if you intend on making any friends. ‘Stubborn’ can mean anything from actually hardheaded to psychotic, which helps to know when you already stick out like a sore thumb. You did make the mistake of buying a Ghana football jersey, common enough to wear in France but a source of endless fascination over here: a white person displaying affection for their country will merit their tailing you for blocks chanting ‘Ghana girl, you like Ghana? We LOVE you! I’ll be your typical Ghanain husband!’ With an ‘Oh I know… Goodbye.’ you decide you definitely need a new tshirt.
posted Friday July 2007